On Conservative Strawmen

by Dennis Sanders on May 30, 2013

strawman-motivational

Note: I’ve been doing some writing over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen lately and this is a post I wrote over there on Tuesday of this week.

I’ve never really understood Michael Tomansky’s role at the Daily Beast other than to write screeds about how evil Republicans and conservatives are.

I never had much love for pundits whose sole duty in life is to write column after column about how evil the other side is. Ann Coulter and Michele Malkin do that quite annoyingly on the starboard side and I find it not only bothersome but rather boring. These writers don’t add any light, but do throw more flames on the fire to pump up their side of the aisle and assure themselves how good they are and how evil and pathetic the other side is.

Tomansky’s latest screed is going after conservative “reformers”; writers that have from time to time advocated for reform from within American conservatism. He thinks they aren’t doing a good enough job. Here’s his take on a quote from one reformer, Avik Roy:

Here’s what Roy says he wants: to “orient the GOP agenda around opportunity for those who least have it, to offer these individuals a superior alternative to failed statist policies.” Please. You get a lot of this from Republicans. Paul Ryan says things like this all the time. Rick Santorum did. Even Mitt Romney did, though to a lesser extent. But it’s all nonsense because they have invented a straw-man version of liberalism in their heads that isn’t anything like the liberalism that actually exists.

So, what should the reformers like Roy, or Ross Douthat, or David Brooks or Reihan Salam be talking about? Well, not policies, but the fact that the GOP is a racist, sexist, homophonic rump or a party:

The big problem with today’s Republican Party isn’t its policies. Certainly, those policies are extreme and would be deeply injurious to middle-class and poorer Americans should they be enacted. But Bob Dole wasn’t thinking, I don’t believe, just of policies. He was talking about the whole package—the intolerance, the proud stupidity, the paranoia, the resentments, the rage. These are intertwined with policy of course—indeed they often drive policy. But they are the party’s real problem. And where these “reformers” fail is that they never, ever, ever (that I have seen) criticize it with any punch at all.

Hey, Avik! Would you like to know why 90 percent of black people aren’t listening to your message? Because you don’t want them to vote! Not you personally (at least I assume), but your party. I know that you think black people are victims of false consciousness (how Marxist of you!), but do you also think they are stupid? If you and your wonderful Arthur Brooks want to develop a program to attract black voters, you might start by trying to change your party’s position on the question of attempting to pervert the law to deny them their franchise.

I think frankly that Tomansky is dealing with a bit of a strawman here. Strawmen aren’t totally fiction, they are built on some fact, but this strawmen, like all strawmen is taken to an extreme and is based more on the person’s perception more than it is on the reality of the situation.

First off, the GOP does have an image problem. It isn’t attractive to persons of color or gays. This isn’t news. I think some of the small steps that are happening such as the bipartisan immigration reform bill will help in the image department a bit. There are miles to go before sleep and it hasn’t dawned on everybody, but the ball is rolling ever so slowly.

Second, I have to wonder if Tomansky has ever read some of these writers. I have and for the most part they have lobbed criticisms against the current GOP. Some have come down against the “crazies.” What Tomansky fails to notice is that these reformers are conservatives, in essense, the loyal opposition. They don’t like where the GOP is at the moment, but they are within the party working for change, not outside throwing stones. That might look like cowardice to someone like Tomansky because they aren’t joining him in denouncing conservatism in general.

Then there is the accusations of taking the vote away from African Americans as the source of why they aren’t voting for the GOP. Two answers. One, the GOP has had low support among African Americans for a while so something like Voter ID is far from the only reason. Two, Andrew Kohut, hardly a conservative, noted that African Americans are voting more in each election cycles not less and that’s with the passage of voter id laws.

Finally, it’s interesting that Tomansky seems to only like those writers he thinks have contempt for the GOP, which reveals his own views and which gets me back to why I don’t really like Tomansky. Maybe I’m weird for wanting to read writers that have something helpful to say, but if you can’t say something nice, well, I’m just going to ignore you.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike June 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

I have a number of friends who are like Tomansky, one just always has to bring up some anti-conservative news piece and claim it’s the whole thing without actually doing research. He’s been doing this for years. He only uses one site and doesn’t bother to research. (He voted for the first time in 2012 and just wrote in a character from the Simpsons).

I have to ignore my friends who are like this because it gets really annoying. Your last sentence was spot on, if you can’t have anything nice to say I won’t listen to you.

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